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Spanish teams dominate in Europe again this season, but what's behind it?

The half-time scores are in and Spain's in the lead again. Two home wins, two away draws, no defeats. Shakhtar Donetsk 2-2 Sevilla, Manchester City 0-0 Real Madrid, Villarreal 1-0 Liverpool, Atlético Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich: Spain 4, everybody else 0?

Two years ago there was an all-Spanish Champions League final; two years before that, there was an all-Spanish Europa League final. This year, there could be both; Milan might be full of Spaniards and so too might Basel. Not as full as they should be but, hey, that's UEFA for you. "Hegemony," Vicente del Bosque called it.

First, a great, big flashing warning or three: in the past eight years there have been all-English, all-German and all-Portuguese finals in Europe, too. Here's another: there could be four Spanish teams in this year's European finals but there could also still be none. The first leg results have been good for La Liga's representatives, all of whom may just about be considered favourites, but there is no guarantee that four, or three, or two or even one will get through. Finally, you might add, Del Bosque would say that. He is the Spain manager, after all.

Yet that does not make him wrong and nor is it a one-off or a statistical quirk. This is not a fluke, it is football. "We're used to caviar in Europe," Javier Tebas said. Now, he really would say that. And unlike Del Bosque, aggressive triumphalism is what the president of the Spanish league does; this is a man who has launched a crusade against the Premier League, the LFP's greatest competitor. One that, he knows, is miles ahead commercially, a serious threat for Spain. And yet he's not really wrong, either.

If Bayern Munich or Manchester City, Liverpool or Shakhtar do succeed in knocking Spanish opposition out of European competition, it would be the first time this season that anyone from any other country has done so. Now, an asterisk should probably put inserted here: knocked out of European competition is not the same as knocked out of a European competition, and Sevilla and Valencia's entry point to the Europa League was Champions League elimination. But still, it remains a startling fact.

So does this: Spanish teams have won 45 of their last 48 knock-out ties against opposition from other countries. If they have "only" four teams in the semifinal, it is because it has been impossible to have more. Might Valencia or Athletic have got there too if they hadn't met Spanish teams on route? Might they have won it?

Spanish teams have won five of 10 European Cups and six of the last 10 UEFA Cups, and the trend is accelerating: four of the past six Europa League winners have been Spanish, as have three of the past five Champions League winners. Look at the finalists of the Europa League over the last decade by nationality and the table reads: Spain eight, Portugal four, England three, Ukraine two and one each for Russia, Scotland and Germany. Go two years beyond that and Valencia won it; go two more years and there's Alavés in the final.

And that matters. Real Madrid and Barcelona winning the Champions League is one thing: they are the two biggest clubs in the world, richer and more powerful than anyone else, a case apart in their own league and across the continent who are explained away as exceptions to the national rule. They are "Super Clubs" striding across a new era of economic elephantitis; behemoths crushing everyone in their path, accumulating the world's best talent from Lionel Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suárez to Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale to Neymar; two clubs who can claim that every single winner of the FIFA World Player award (merged with the Ballon d'Or from 2009) has played for one or other of them since 1996 -- 20 long years ago.

But if that's one thing, Atlético reaching a Champions League final is another. And Sevilla, Atlético, Athletic, Valencia, Alavés and perhaps Villarreal reaching Europa League finals is another step again.

Go on Twitter, have a look below the line on just about any article about Spanish football (better still, don't) and you'll see it. It doesn't even need to be up for debate, and it often requires no provocation whatsoever. Just mentioning a scoreline can do it, or praising a player. It is always there, anyway: without fail, there's someone wading in to declare La Liga is rubbish.

It's an odd one, this angry, aggressive league-based fandom. Who goes to a stadium to chant "Come on you Premier League!"? Or "Viva La Liga?" Where does this need to declare a league the "best" come from? How do you define best, anyway? And why does it matter quite so much?

Besides, even beyond the innate silliness of it, doesn't the last decade suggest that they are wrong? Madrid and Barcelona win a game in Spain and "Rubbish league" surfaces. But Madrid and Barcelona have won the last two Champions League. Is that a rubbish league too? And if the Champions League can be considered the private hunting ground of a powerful and wealthy elite few, almost irrespective of which country they're from, the Europa League is arguably a better measure of strength in depth. Spain has dominated that too.

There, the success of the country's "other" teams surely underlines that while La Liga was a two-horse race, it wasn't because all the rest were a bunch of donkeys.

Two-horse race? It's not even that any more. Atlético won the title two seasons ago and this weekend, domestic action returns with a single point separating the top three. They have all dropped points at least nine times this season; last weekend, Real Madrid had to come back from 2-0 down to beat relegation-threatened Rayo 3-2. Atlético recently lost at Sporting, who are in the bottom three. Barcelona were hammered 4-1 by Celta at the start of the season and just came through a run of just one point from a possible 12.

Boring? Uncompetitive? Predictable? Sometimes, yes. But not all the time. There are valid comparisons to be made between leagues, although they are complex and not conclusive. And there is a worthwhile debate to be had about the difficulties faced by the Spanish league, too.

The economic gap between the top two and the rest is narrowing in terms of TV money, which has finally come under a collective, centralised deal that Tebas fought to force through, but it remains gigantic. It is also a social reality in a country where they dominate fandom and the media, and a troubling one at that.

A recurring theme in Spain lately has been the search for an equivalent to Leicester winning the league -- it would be like Sporting Gijón winning it, they say. Or like Almería, or Levante. In fact, it wouldn't really be like any of them winning the league, not exactly. As a historic achievement, maybe, but as a question of resources, maybe not. It is impossible to compare properly; as an achievement of resources, economic differences, Atlético Madrid winning the league two years was not so wildly different as it looks. Leicester take more in TV rights a year than anyone in Spain apart from Madrid and Barcelona.

What's the better league? Economically, with their ££5.5 billion global TV deal, the Premier League is. But while the Premier League is a colossal threat (one that Tebas has warned could really hurt La Liga), La Liga's clubs simply cannot compete economically and the fear remains that the situation may get worse, there are some advantages of English football being awash with cash: Spanish clubs rely on it, in fact.

England is the league to which they can sell, usually at huge prices; the import market to which they can export, helping to sustain them. There are more than 30 Spaniards playing in the Premier League. There is just one Briton (Gareth Bale) playing in Spain's top division.

Money isn't everything; at times, plentiful wealth provokes problems. It makes clubs lazy, like a modern day sporting "Hidalgo Mentality," the presumptuous aristocratic mindset that helped undermine Imperial Spain. Why work, why produce, when you can buy? "Bread for today, hunger for tomorrow," as the Spanish phrase has it.

By contrast, when you don't have money you tend to seek other, more imaginative and sustainable solutions: coaching, development, construction, competition. Solutions that impact on the clubs and on the national team. A more tactical, technical approach, more focus on position, more meticulous physical preparation, a more professionalised, detailed, global vision. A philosophy. Laugh all you like but it's true: a path to follow is vital. Spanish football gets things wrong, sure, but take a look at this week's semifinals and it's clear that it gets a lot right too.

Spanish clubs don't all have a clear model and they aren't perfect, but most of them have an identity. Not, despite what some seem to think, always the same identity -- Madrid, Barcelona, Atlético, Sevilla, Athletic and Villarreal could hardly be more different -- but something to work towards. The work done beyond Madrid and Barcelona is good. There are good players there too, integrated into teams by good coaches; proper coaches. Constructive, clever coaches.

Last year, four of the eight coaches in the Champions League quarterfinals had not just played and learned the trade in Spain but played together in the same team. This year, four of the eight teams left standing in European football are Spanish and the only ones who fell did so at the hands of their countrymen.

Four of eight and it could yet be four of four.

Sid Lowe is a Spain-based columnist and journalist who writes for ESPN FC, the Guardian, FourFourTwo and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter at @sidlowe.


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